BDP: An ambitious public realm scheme has recently been completed in Watford Town Centre. The £4.3m scheme for Watford Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council has transformed the area known as The Parade into a key civic space with the flexibility and capacity to accommodate a variety of outdoor events, and attract a wide range of visitors throughout the day and evening. BDP was appointed in 2011 after a competitive tender and have tackled the project with an integrated, interdisciplinary team encompassing landscape architects, urban designers, sustainability specialists, engineering, movement planners and lighting designers. The scheme is part of a wider masterplan for regeneration in the town including planned improvements to rail links and shopping provision in the town.
The 15,000m2 site is a key location within Watford town centre due to its close proximity to a number of important cultural destinations including; The Palace and Colosseum Theatres, the Library, The Leisure Centre, West Herts College and the Town Hall. It provides an essential link between the wider town centre and this ‘cultural quarter.’ The site is also home to a large historic pond that has been in place for over 100 years and is an iconic part of the town’s identity. The site presented a number of challenges for the design team including perceptions of the area being dominated by nightlife, vacant retail units, poor quality public realm, excessive street clutter and challenging movement issues including physical barriers to circulation and conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles. In addition the historic pond had fallen into a poor condition with bad water quality, an outdated filtration system and little opportunity for engagement.
The project responded to feedback from local residents and businesses who wanted to see the area become more attractive, helping to bring shoppers, families and businesses to the area. BDP carried out extensive consultation with key stakeholders and fully involved the public in the design process with over 500 members of the public attending events and inputting in the design. In addition BDP developed an online consultation tool in the form of a WordPress site to keep the public abreast of the schemes development and allow ongoing comment. This has received over 12,500 visits.
Following on from consultation a set of principle aims for the site were developed which included; being more family friendly, creating a stronger connection between the cultural quarter and the town centre, setting a benchmark for the quality of the public realm and creating a vibrant, diverse and distinctive area at the top of the town. In addition a key scheme objective was to improve cycling and pedestrian movement within The Parade. The aspiration was that the area would act as a stimulating focal point for events, culture and heritage within the borough.
Movement design principles were developed in a holistic way taking into consideration multiple factors including the different groups that use the site, consultation findings and the recommendations of a Public Realm Movement Enabling Study carried out by movement planning consultants Urban Flow. In order to improve movement the design solution has removed a vehicular access road, parking and loading bays and a defined cycle route from The Parade. This has enabled the creation of a new mixed use car free space that can be navigated comfortably and safely by pedestrians and cyclists. The shared zone is a minimum of 5m wide and is completely clear of street furniture, which has been carefully re positioned to minimise clutter.
The materials used in scheme have been carefully considered with emphasis on high quality natural materials including wood and Limestone and granite paving.
The design of the pond is an important element in the schemes success, having previously acted as a barrier to pedestrian movement and offering little opportunity for interaction. The aim was to activate the edges of the pond and improve the water quality and ecological value, creating a draw for visitors. BDP worked with the local library and researched the pond heritage finding that one end of the pond used to have a sloped entrance where cattle would be washed before being taken to market. This has been reflected in the design response with stepped access to the water created at one end of the pond to once again allow direct interaction.
In addition, for the first time in the ponds history a bridge has been introduced to open up desire lines through the space, improve footfall to the north of the pond and greatly increase the excitement factor for visitors. Ecologists were consulted early on and throughout the scheme to ensure sensitive treatment of the existing wildlife. The pond was completely drained down to allow renovation. The shape and size of the pond were improved and a new self healing Bentonite clay liner installed. A state of the art filtration system and fountains have been put in place; pond planting improved and decked areas and outdoor dining created adjacent to the waters edge. Over 300 fish were carefully removed and looked after off site by aquatic specialists Aquajoy during the works. These have now been returned to the water and local ducks and fowl have also quickly re inhabited their new environment.
The project also introduces striking 2000 person capacity event space with integrated power and lighting designed for large events. This new event space has a strong identity with bold black and white paving and raised grass seating areas. This creates a striking and individual outdoor event destination in the town centre. The scheme also includes a smaller informal event space on a new raised timber deck under existing mature trees. This informal stage creates a place for busking and impromptu break out performances. Street lighting throughout The Parade has been upgraded and complemented with an exciting feature lighting scheme which transforms the space at night attracting people to the area during the evenings. This includes an illuminated bridge crossing, lit fountains, strip lighting accenting seating and 3 striking 12m high feature columns with 24 projectors that create a bold watery effect over the event space at night.
There is an exciting events programme taking place in the new spaces this year including; The Big Dance featuring 80 local community dancers, Big Family Sports Day with England athletes, Outdoor Cinema screenings, catwalk shows, Diwali on the Parade and ice skating. The enhancements have delivered key cultural, physical, economic and social improvements to the town and made a major contribution to achieving the Council’s vision of a family friendly town centre. Eight vacant units on The Parade have already been filled since July 2013 and the area is seeing increased footfall. Watford Borough Council have employed a new town centre manager and are launching a new 40 stall market adjacent to The Parade in September 2014. The scheme was officially opened by Mary Portas in July 2014.
Project Name: Watford Parade
Location: Watford, Hertfordshire, England
Landscape Architects: BDP
Client: Watford Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council
Construction cost: £4.3m
Year Completed: 2014
Photos: David Parker, Sanna Fisher Payne